I boarded a plane in New Zealand in early March, bound for the United States. While I sat on the tarmac the US announced they were closing the borders to pretty much all travelers arriving from Europe. At the time, it seemed surreal. When I landed in the US, I spent a few days working in Las Vegas. While I was there, school was cancelled for two weeks at our home in Virginia. I finished my work and headed home. At the time, I expected to stay home for a few weeks and then begin traveling again.
We all know what happened after that. Travel as we know it has ground to a halt. It looks dramatically different, with all kinds of new precautions. While everyone has their own comfort level right now, my personal decision has been to avoid plane travel. It took quite a while to realize, but at this point I don’t think I’ll be getting on a plane again in 2020. Working remotely, I’ve still wanted to have opportunities for our family to travel. Our daughter hasn’t been anywhere near comfortable staying in a hotel.
That led us to renting our first RV, which was something of an adventure. Now that we have a bit of experience, we’ve learned some basic, but important details about how to rent an RV successfully. Since we were renting RVs there was no need for hotels. So, the time stretched on without a hotel stay until our family decided to purchase an RV. The cheapest place to purchase the trailer we wanted was in Michigan. That meant a 10-hour drive to go get it and a 12-hour drive back. With time to inspect the trailer, I’d need to stay in a hotel twice.
These were both short overnight stays. I’m sure I didn’t get the full experience, but I did pick up some details along the way that clearly separated the stay. I’m doing my best not to mention hotel chains in these comparisons. I don’t think a short overnight stay is enough to make broad judgment about how these chains are doing.
Hotel Stay #1
This was a quick one-night stay at a full-service hotel, something I wasn’t expecting to find in western Michigan. As expected, there was a plexiglass shield at check-in. It was notable that the person checking me in took my ID and credit card from me to inspect them. I was a little surprised by that, since the check-in agent made an effort to stay behind the plexiglass. I was also notified that the elite breakfast benefit had been temporarily suspended.
Once I got to my room I was greeted by a small sticker on the door stating that my room was disinfected. It seemed a bit pointless since it didn’t “seal” the door. Every door on my floor had one of these stickers.
Upon initial inspection, the room looked clean. There was even a small pack of sanitizing wipes beside the TV remote.
Without much effort, I did find a couple of areas certainly seemed to indicate that maximum effort may not have been taken to properly clean the room. My trash can hadn’t been emptied. And, the shampoo bottle appeared to be partially used. I had my own toiletries with me and the bed looked clean. After a long night of driving, I was ready for sleep and the room was clean enough.
As I headed out in the morning, I noticed that the lobby cafe was open and apparently selling some food items to customers. That surprised me a bit, since it would seem easy to offer elite members a credit to use at the lobby cafe to grab coffee and a piece of fruit or muffin.
Hotel Stay #2
On my drive back (with a very big RV in tow) I found a roadside limited service hotel to stay for the night. I hunted for a hotel that was at the end of a road where I could park the beast safely. Upon arrival late at night, the check-in agent verified my ID without touching it. My room was “sealed” with a sticker stating that it had been disinfected for my visit.
Inside, everything in the room was clean as would normally be expected. There was definitely more effort put into an appearance of extra sanitation measures. The remote control was in a plastic bag. There was also a variety of sanitizing wipes for my use.
Upon check-out, I was offered a pre-packaged bag that included a bottle of water, an apple, a Nutri-Grain bar and a muffin.
The Final Two Pennies
I felt much safer and welcome in hotel #2. As you can tell from a couple of the pictures, it was part of the Hilton family. While it was a short stay, it seemed to me there was more effort put into making me feel safe and welcome. There’s no proof that a door sticker and some sanitizing wipes also means the hotel cleaned the bathroom properly or changed the sheets. But, I can’t imagine there’s anything reasonable a hotel could do to give me that sort of confidence.
While I’ve taken reasonable precautions during the pandemic, I wouldn’t say I’m overly panicked. I don’t imagine a dirty trash can or even a desk that wasn’t sanitized drastically increases my chances to catch COVID-19 from another hotel guest or hotel employee. And yet, I was surprised by how much those small details had me worried about everything in hotel #1.
The small bag of breakfast items was a solid effort by hotel #2 to recognize my elite status. Both hotels had a gift shop open with a variety of breakfast items available for purchase. I think it would have been easy to include a credit for hotel guests to pick out what they prefer for breakfast from the gift shop. That being said, my expectations for elite recognition are pretty minimal in the current conditions.
At the end of the day, I didn’t encounter anything that would scare me away from another hotel stay. I do think results will vary greatly amongst individual hotels, regardless of what chain they’re a part of. That makes it difficult for cautious travelers to ensure their safety prior to checking in.
Current information seems to indicate it’s tough to contract COVID-19 from surface contact, especially with time elapsed between guests. I would definitely have enough confidence to stay in a hotel again in the near future, though as mentioned earlier I’m not ready to hop back on an airplane.
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